EDEN — Just hours before the KFC on Van Buren Road exploded, the odor of natural gas in the kitchen was strong enough to give Christian Jarrett a headache.
Jarrett, 21, said his supervisor also got a strong whiff of what smelled like sulfur, a possible sign of a gas leak. He said he believes the manager, whom he didn’t name, attempted to shut off the gas supply by adjusting a lever that opens and closes gas flow to the kitchen.
He also thought the supervisor had likely called Piedmont Natural Gas officials to alert them to a possible gas leak.
But PNG officials have no record of a call from the restaurant either Wednesday night or early Thursday morning before the explosion, said PNG spokesman Jason Wheatley.
The Eden Fire Department notified them of the explosion at 12:39 a.m., Wheatley said. “We have no record” of any other report, he said Thursday afternoon.
At the KFC franchise in neighboring Madison, general manager Jamie King explained gas safety protocols she learned through the restaurant chain’s corporate training.
“We have everything to prevent accidents like this ... if the equipment isn’t faulty and you’re following correct guidelines, there shouldn’t be a problem,’’ said King, who started with KFC four years ago.
Standards dictate that all KFC restaurants be equipped with sensors to alert staff of volatile fuel leaks or fires, King said.
The on/off lever attached to her KFC gas line is similar to the one Jarrett described, and King said it is housed in a safe location within the Madison restaurant’s kitchen.
Jarrett, however, worries the on/off lever at the Eden KFC was placed in a high traffic-area of the kitchen that made it vulnerable to being jostled by busy staffers.
He said Wednesday night was the first time he had smelled natural gas during his shift.
Officials from national and state Occupational Safety and Health offices could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the explosion. Eden Police Chief Greg Light said no injuries were reported in the blast, which cast debris a quarter-mile away and damaged nearby businesses.
Jarrett discovered that his workplace had been decimated when he made a chance stop at the Sheetz convenience store across from the restaurant about 2 a.m. Thursday.
“Knowing that I could have been in there just terrifies me,” Jarrett said.
Joe Dexter is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. He can be reached at 336-349-4331 ext. 6139 or @JoeDexter_RCN on Twitter.
Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101.
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